Other Cancers Related to Asbestos Exposure
Mesothelioma is the primary long-term health risk linked to asbestos exposure. Yet, other cancers have been associated with the carcinogen. Breathing in or swallowing asbestos dust can lead to internal damage in the respiratory and digestive systems. Other asbestos-linked diseases include cancers of the:
- Larynx (voice box)
- Pharynx (cavity behind nose and mouth)
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Mesotheliomas and other asbestos cancers have been detected in people exposed for a few days. However, many cases of extreme exposure occur in people who worked in or near thick clouds of asbestos dust.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Cause Other Cancers?
When asbestos particles enter the body, they can become lodged in the mesothelium of the abdomen, chest, heart, or testicles. The microscopic fibers can also damage tissues along the nose, throat, and digestive tract.
While larger contaminants might be coughed up, asbestos can remain in cells for years – unable to be removed. Over time, cells’ DNA could be damaged and become precancerous. The carcinogen can also cause inflammation (asbestosis) and scarring or thickening (pleural plaques) in the chest. Though some asbestos-related diseases don’t cause other cancers, they can still be physically debilitating.
The latency period from exposure and the first signs or symptoms of asbestos-caused disease is between 10 and 40 years.
A study of asbestos-exposed workers found an average of 15 years between exposure and diagnosis of lung cancer.
Certain groups of people have a greater risk for other cancers linked to asbestos. Typically, those who work in industries like construction, shipyards, and asbestos manufacturing have the highest risk of occupational exposure. Millions of American workers may have also been exposed to the health hazard in the trades:
- Automotive mechanics
- Demolition worker
- Drywall remover
- Insulation worker
- Longshoring and harbor workers
- Mining and milling
- Textile manufacturing
Additionally, family members of workers in the above occupations may be at risk. Toxic dust can travel home on the hair, skin, clothing, and shoes of workers. Contamination may happen through direct contact (like a hug), becoming airborne in the home, or becoming attached to frequently used surfaces (such as the carpet).
Other factors that affect your risk of asbestos-related disease include:
- Amount of asbestos exposure
- Family history of cancer
- Length of exposure time
- Preexisting health conditions
- Size of asbestos fibers
- Source of exposure
Effects of Smoking
Many of the affected industries have historically higher rates of tobacco use compared to the general population. Unfortunately, cigarette smoking can greatly increase a worker’s risk of mesothelioma. Likewise, smoking cigarettes and asbestos exposure increase an individual’s risk for lung cancer more than either factor separately.
Several studies demonstrate the need to quit smoking as soon as possible to reduce your cancer risk. Workers who quit smoking can even reduce some of the respiratory damage over time.
Diagnosing Other Asbestos-related Cancers
Workers and retirees who think they were exposed to a carcinogen on the job should tell their doctor about their work history, possible exposure sources, and any symptoms. Side effects of other asbestos-related cancers may not appear for decades. Symptoms may include:
- Blood in sputum when coughing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling tired constantly
- Hoarse voice
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in chest or tightness
- Persistent and worsening cough
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Swelling in face or neck
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have any symptoms of chronic illness, your doctor may examine your chest with a stethoscope and order a chest X-ray, CT scan, and/or lung function tests. These tests won’t be able to diagnose mesotheliomas but can reveal signs of serious disease.
A biopsy is a type of surgical test that analyzes a small piece of tissue from the affected area with a microscope. A bronchoscopy may be used to detect toxic fibers in the lung. The procedure is less invasive than a biopsy with a shorter recovery time.
People who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease often qualify for additional benefits and assistance. If a veteran’s illness can be connected to their military service, they may be able to file for health care and disability benefits (or increase them). Similarly, Medicare insurance may be available to assist with the costs of asbestos treatment.
Financial assistance such as workers’ compensation may help some individuals with an asbestos-linked illness. Others, however, may need to consider filing a legal claim with an asbestos trust fund or suing the asbestos manufacturer.
Talk to an experienced lawyer for more information about the steps for legal compensation.